Pentagon Shifts Brass At Guantanamo War Court

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
September 19, 2008
By Carol Rosenberg
WASHINGTON--The Defense Department on Friday stripped a controversial can-do general of legal authority at Guantánamo military commissions but created for him a job as war court czar in charge of logistics from the Pentagon to the outpost in southeast Cuba.
Within hours, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann declared his biggest challenge in his new job is ''to keep the process moving, really intensely.'' He pledged a brisk pace for war on terror prosecutions.
''Everybody needs to start seeing more trials,'' he told The Miami Herald. ``I want those courtrooms to be as filled up as they can possibly be -- six days a week.''
Three separate military judges had three times this year disqualified the Air Force brigadier from his role as impartial legal advisor at war court trials. Each found a perception of pro-prosecution bias that was at odds with his ostensible role as objective legal advisor.
The Defense Department notice made no mention of the controversy. Instead, it said that Hartmann's deputy, retired Army Col. Michael Chapman is now the new legal advisor for Military Commissions. The job supervises the Pentagon's Chief War Crimes Prosecutor and, separately, offers independent legal advice on the cases.
Hartmann became director of Operations, Planning and Development for Military Commissions. Neither man supervises the other.
In the Herald interview, Hartmann likened his new job to chief executive officer at a 250-staff corporate headquarters. He said he had no fixed budget.
At Guantánamo, fellow officers testified at the tribunals that Hartmann bullied both attorneys and junior officers in his admitted zeal to push forward with trials at the first U.S. war crimes trials since World War II.
In a moment of high drama in August, a deputy prison camp commander, Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Zanetti testified that Hartmann was ''abusive, bullying and unprofessional'' and employed a ''spray and pray'' strategy to stage the tribunals in a crude compound called Camp Justice.
The Pentagon acting general counsel, Daniel Dell'Orto, put it this way in a statement:
``Gen. Hartmann has driven the commissions process forward since his arrival in July 2007. In no small part because of his efforts and his dedication, the commissions are an active, operational legal system.''
The Pentagon issued the announcement days before renewed hearings in the case Hartmann has championed -- the complex capital conspiracy prosecutions of five alleged architects of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed 2,973 people.
Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged four co-conspirators are due back at the war court in southeast Cuba for pre-trial motions Monday and Tuesday.
Defense lawyers want the charges dismissed on grounds, they say, Hartmann pushed the prosecution's timing for political purposes. Hartmann said his zeal was apolitical and meant to jump-start a sluggish legal system.
Next week at Guantánamo, lawyers argue before Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, the chief war court judge, on who will be allowed to testify in the motion. Defense lawyers have put Hartmann, Zanetti and Dell'Orto on their proposed witness list.
Under the current timetable, the big 9/11 death penalty trial is unlikely to start during the Bush presidency. John McCain has championed the tribunals, and helped set them up after the Sept. 11 attacks; Barack Obama has said he favors trying alleged terrorists in traditional military or civilian courts that were already functioning in 2001.
The announcement ended weeks of speculation on the fate of Hartmann with little fanfare: In an ordinary Pentagon press release issued on Friday afternoon, a time considered in Washington circles to be when the Defense Department disposes of uncomfortable business.
Hartmann, a corporate attorney who was mobilized to the war court, has been an outspoken activist for the beleaguered commissions system court, which was once shut down by the U.S. Supreme Court and sputtered along with a single courtroom until the Air Force general oversaw the erection of a $12 million Expeditionary Legal Complex.
Now ''Camp Justice'' has two courts and an adjacent tent and trailer city for lawyers, staffs, guards, media and observers to stage two trials simultaneously.
In contrast, Chapman has been a behind-the-scenes figure, a 30-year-career Army officer and lawyer who retired in March 2005 as a senior judge after a four-year stint at the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
In that capacity, Chapman ruled on an appeal brought by lawyers for Army Sgt. William J. Kreutzer Jr., who was convicted by court martial of opening fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C. in 1995, killing one and wounding 17 others.
Kreutzer's case has periodically come up at the military commissions because two war court judges presided at Kreutzer's trials, in which he was twice convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2004, the appeals court overturned the first verdict on grounds the soldier's lawyers provided ineffective counsel at sentencing and because the original judge, Col. Peter Brownback III refused to provide a government funded mitigation expert, often used to offer advice in death penalty cases.
In a ruling that overturned the first conviction, Chapman agreed that the soldier wasn't properly defended but dissented in the criticism that Brownback should have provided a mitigation expert. A new trial was ordered and Army Col. Patrick Parrish presided.
Both Brownback and Parrish have served as judges in the commissions case of Canadian Omar Khadr, accused of the July 2002 grenade killing of a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier during a U.S. raid on a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan. Khadr's trial is scheduled for Nov. 10.